Chinese citizens are much more likely than Americans to believe that their government sides with them over corporations, according to a study released Monday.
Research carried out for CNBC and Burson-Marsteller by market research firm Penn Schoen Berland shows that the majority of Americans believe their government favors U.S. corporations over U.S. citizens. Conversely, most Chinese respondents said they believe their government is on the side of the people rather than large businesses.
An overwhelming 70-plus percent of Americans said they feel that the government prefers large businesses over average citizens, while 80 percent of Chinese citizens said they believe that their government favors them over corporations.
However, analysts caution about reading too much into the survey results from China, given the challenges in conducting objective surveys there under government surveillance.
"There is much anecdotal evidence that suggests such a view may be too simplistic and should not be taken for granted—one reason why we should have a healthy suspicion of the opinion report," said Fei-Ling Wang, professor of international affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology. "If the questions are asked with any political meaning to it, [Chinese] people will automatically become cautious."
Hong Kong, which is officially part of mainland China but whose citizens enjoy a greater degree of freedom than mainland Chinese, reported opposite results on the question of government support, saying for the most part that their government favors corporations over people. On most other questions, Hong Kong's results matched the mainland answers.
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"I think the perception in Hong Kong that the government is controlled by corporations has a lot to do with the fact that the committee [that governs] is really [filled with] business tycoons," said Clem Miller, investment analyst with Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors.
As for Americans, the nature of the American campaign and lobby system may contribute to a perception that the government has bias toward large companies.
"Many Americans believe the lawmakers may be bought over by the corporations," Wang said.
Historically, Americans have also seen how giving free rein to businesses has sometimes caused serious problems for regular citizens, including investors.
It's "uncontroversial that American history and political culture for a long time embraced the notion of free markets and a light regulating hand, and the country was built with entrepreneurs," said Scott Harold, political scientist at Rand Corp. "You would not have had a Bernie Madoff or Enron if you had regulation."